Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Buy My Book

As we approach the release of SIN, The Chicago Contingent Anthology, promotion has been at the forefront of my mind. Postcards are being printed, websites are being updated, readings are being scheduled and hopefully the word is being spread. But it is difficult to tell what works and what doesn't, what's cost effective and what isn't. So, let's take a look at some promotion options:

Postcards and mailers
Cost: Moderate
Time Consumption: Moderate
It's a fast and simple way to spread the word, but it's difficult to measure how well it works. Lots of people throw advertisements away without even looking at them and how many of the people who read the mailer actually go out and buy the book? At conferences and other networking events, handing out postcards or bookmarks can be more effective. At least then, you're looking your potential audience in the eye.

Book Trailers
Cost: Moderate to High
Time Consumption: High
I'm still skeptical about a book trailer's ability to sell books. I'm not a person that spends much time on YouTube, so the book trailers I've seen come from the author's website or blog. If I'm visiting the author's site, chances are I'd buy the book anyway. If the trailer is good, people will send it to their friends and word will spread. But good trailers tend to be costly and I don't think that they sell enough books to break even.

Website or Blog
Cost: Minimal
Time Consumption: Minimal to Moderate
I'd say the web is the most cost effective way to promote. A website can reach people all over the world, it doesn't take much time or money to maintain, and the internet has the ability to spread the word fast. In order to maintain site traffic, it's necessary to update your website frequently so people have a reason to come back and visit.

Cost: Moderate
Time Consumption: Minimal to Moderate
If your publisher sends Advance Reading Copies to every major publication and reviewer in the country, consider yourself lucky. Most authors have to research and mail out copies themselves. I do believe good reviews and blurbs sell books, but they can be harder to come by. The cost of shipping ARCs can really add up, but if someone like Janet Maslin gives you a blurb, it was all worth it.

Facebook and MySpace
Cost: Nothing
Time Consumption: Minimal to Moderate
I've gone over my feelings about social networking sites in a previous post so I won't spend too much time on this one. Basically, it doesn't cost anything and doesn't have to take up too much of your time. I'm not convinced that having a thousand friends and telling them to buy your book actually does anything, but if it's a free form of advertising, why not? Just don't spend too much time searching for friends or looking at people's profile pictures.

Cost: Minimal
Time Consumption: Moderate
If I go to a reading, and I enjoy hearing the author, it's almost a guarantee that I'm going to buy their book. Readings allow people to sample the product. Hopefully they'll like what they hear. Of course, the hardest part is getting asses in the seats. Places like RUI and Uptown Writer's Space have ready made audiences so you don't have to panic that no one's going to show. But if you're reading at a bookstore, make sure to update the website, invite every single Facebook and MySpace friend, and hope for the best.

To effectively promote, it takes a combination of a few methods, and you always have to weigh the cost and time consumption against the potential results. Any other methods I'm missing? Anyone have a unique and effective way to spread the word?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Swimming is over, Blogging returns!

I have returned to my life on this planet after having spent the last week glued to my television watching swimming. Thankfully, it's the only sport I truly love to watch, so as the Olympics move on, I can return to the world of blogging.

In my absence, I did manage to make it over to a friend's book launch and hang out with some three-dimensional people. There, I spoke with a friend about a recent experience he had with a reporter from a certain newspaper. He was interviewed for an article, but when he got the proof, the reporter had made up all kinds of quotes and taken a weird and unexpected slant on the article. As a freelancer who routinely interviews authors, I was appalled that a writer would do this. But my friend just shrugged and replied, "Hey, ink is ink."

I'm not naming names since I think it would be poor form and ultimately it doesn't matter. But the reporter is fairly well known and, in my opinion, should know better. To edit and chop up quotes is one thing (still not a fan of it), but to blatantly make them up is unacceptable. If I was in my friend's position, I'd be calling the publication and speaking with the executive editor. But he's not pissed. He's just happy to get his name in print.

Since I'm not a published author, I guess I don't know. A lot of authors I've spoken with have told me they'd rather get a bad review than no review at all. Is it better to have a reporter print lies as long as he spells your name right? Maybe I'm simply to anal or ethical as I wouldn't misquote interview subjects or make accusations that weren't true. Is this a common practice among feature writers?

I was still reeling from when my friend told me about his experience, but I just got a chance to read the actual article this morning. It was poorly written, choppy, and I could tell which quotes were fabricated. If the writer was going to make things up, he should have at least done it well. But hopefully, people will overlook the quality of writing and my friend will sell a few books. Because that's the whole point, right?

Monday, August 04, 2008

It's all been done

With millions of books in print and new ones hitting the shelves every day, it seems impossible that any of them are something truly original. Whatever book you pick up, nine times out of ten you can find four more books that cover similar subject matter. There is the murder mystery, the boy-meets-girl story, the coming of age story, etc. All of which have been told to death.

I've seen so many writers beating themselves over the head, trying to come up with an "original" idea. To me, this seems like a waste of time. Having a good idea is far more important than originality and the way you execute the idea can make or break your story.

One of my favorite types of thrillers is the story of an ordinary man in extraordinary situations. Authors such as Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay have made their careers off of this type of novel. Even though the basis for the story is the same, each book they write is different. The characters, the circumstances, the stakes, all change from novel to novel, making the stories feel original even if their basis is not.

To me, it's kind of like a car crash. Five different people can see the same accident, but no two people would describe it in the same way. Everyone's murder mystery or boy-meets-girl story is different because no one sees the story with the same pair of eyes. The originality lies in the way you tell it and the insight you bring to the story.

I wouldn't bother wasting time trying to come up with a completely original idea. Chances are, it's already been done. Instead, ask yourself these questions:
  • How can I reinvent the typical coming of age or boy-meets-girl story? How can I tell it in a new way?
  • How can I make my protagonist stand out amongst the millions of characters in fiction today? What makes s/he different and interesting?
  • How can I use my setting in an original way? How can I utilize my protagonist's surroundings to raise the stakes and heighten tension?
  • What about my story is intriguing enough that a reader would pick up the book? What is the hook? And how can I maintain enough tension and suspense to draw readers in and keep them turning pages until the very end?

We all tend to read the same types of stories over and over again. But it doesn't get redundant because each story is a little different. It's nearly impossible to come up with an original idea, and even then, you're not guaranteed that it'll be a bestseller. But I believe writing a good book and telling the same old story in a new way will ensure readership.